How often have I hear that most musicians reach their peak in their twenties? Ringo Starr, the oldest of the Beatles was 30 in July 1970, by which time the group had split up. By the time that Van Morrison was 30, he had released his first eight albums, including “Astral Weeks“, “Moondance” and “Veedon Fleece”. Bob Dylan had released eleven albums before the age of 30 and many people (not me) would say the only good album he released afterwards is “Blood On The Tracks”. Mozart had written “The Marriage Of Figaro” and “Don Giovanni” by the time he was 30.
What are the best days of your life? A YouGov survey found that the most popular answer was the decade that people are currently living in. The second most popular answer was the 20s. For example, for people aged 40-49, the best decade of their life was 40-49 (25%), followed by 20-29 (23%). For people of my age (60-69), it’s slightly different: 22% said 30-39, 21% said 60-69, 16% said 40-49 and 14% said 20-29.
For Neil Young, it seems pretty clear that he thinks that the best years of his life were between 1968 and 1973, when he was aged 23-28. I can state this with some justification by analysing his recent album releases. Along with Bob Dylan, Neil Young has released 17 live albums as part of an “Archive Performance Series”. “Carnegie Hall” is the latest release and is not part of the “Archive Performance Series” series, but is the first in an “Official Bootleg Series”. Five more “Official Bootleg Series” albums have been announced, including two from January/February 1971. He seems to be particularly taken with the 26 shows that he gave between November 1970 and February 1971 as there will soon be six albums covering these shows. “Carnegie Hall” is a double album, recorded on 4th December 1970. It’s good but, to my ears, it’s pretty indistinguishable from “Cellar Door” which was recorded on 30th November and 2nd December 1970.
|Code||Album||Date recorded||Date released|
|PS00||Sugar Mountain||November 1968||2008|
|PS02||Crazy Horse At The Fillmore||March 1970||2006|
|PS2.5||Cellar Door||November/December 1970||2013|
|OBS01||Carnegie Hall||December 1970||2021|
|PS3.5||Young Shakespeare||January 1971||2021|
|PS03||Massey Hall||January 1971||2007|
|OBS02||Royce Hall||January 1971||2022?|
|OBS03||Dorothy Chandler Pavilion||February 1971||2022?|
I’ve bought “Carnegie Hall” and I’m enjoying it but I now have four live versions of “Tell Me Why” and “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” (OBS01, PS2.5, PS03, PS3.5). They are all good but they’re all the same! This set does include some lesser known songs such as “On The Way Home”, “Wonderin'” and “Bad Fog Of Loneliness”.
Maybe the best thing about this album is the interactions between Neil Young and the audience. Firstly, he tells the audience off for clapping along too slowly to “Sugar Mountain”, telling them “don’t clap, sing!” Later, when there’s more applause at the piano introduction to a new song he pokes fun at people pretending to recognise the song. “I just realized something. You people clap at the beginning of these piano songs and I know for a fact that I don’t play that good but I know all the introductions are all exactly the same.“
Neil Young’s voice at this stage of his life is extraordinary. In John Einarson’s excellent book about Neil Young’s early life, called “Neil Young – The Canadian Years”, there are some great quotes by some of Neil Young’s friends. Jacolyne Nentwig is quoted as saying “Neil would be singing at our house and we’d say ‘Oh Neil. That’s awful’. We were pretty cruel about his singing.” The mother of one of his bandmates in The Squires ordered the band out of the basement when she heard Neil Young’s “screetchy” vocals. When The Squires added vocals to their repertoire, audience members would shout out “Stick to instrumentals“. Neil Young’s mother was the only one who encouraged him: “Everybody said Neil couldn’t sing except me. I told him ‘it’s an interesting key but if that’s your key, who cares'”
Neil Young has followed that advice his whole life. If he wants to release an experimental album with most of the vocals sung through a vocoder (“Trans“), who cares what other people think? If he wants to release an album of feedback (“Weld”), who cares what other people think? If he wants to release an album with Pearl Jam (“Mirror Ball”) or Booker T & The MGs (“Are You Passionate?”) who cares what other people think? If he wants to release 11 live solo albums recorded over five years, who cares what other people think?